Itasca State Park is Minnesota’s oldest and the country’s second-oldest state park. It’s also the second-largest state park, with almost 32,500 acres (second only to St. Croix State Park in Hinckley, Minn., which is 33,895 acres). Itasca State Park, approximately four hours north-west of the Twin Cities, is home to the Mississippi River Headwaters, 45 miles of hiking trails, 200-year-old pine trees, a 100-foot fire tower to climb, historical sites, camping, fishing, boating, and so much more.
Historical Sites in Itasca State Park
Let’s take a look at some of the most prominent historical sites that you can discover within the Itasca State Park. If you are interested in learning more about the history, you may think about visiting these historical sites.
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A wooded route at Itasca State Park
Itasca State Park in Minnesota is not only full of outdoor activities, but it’s also rich in history, making it one of Minnesota’s top state parks.
Itasca State Park, which was established in 1891 to safeguard the woods and waterways around the Mississippi River Headwaters, receives approximately 500,000 people each year. I’m fascinated by history, and Itasca State Park has much to tell. In 1965, it was designated as a National Natural Landmark, and eight years later, it was listed to the National Register of Historic Places.
It wasn’t simple to have the state park designated as a historic site. By a single vote, it was approved. We are pleased that every vote counts so that we may all enjoy Itasca State Park’s spectacular beauty and pristine red pine woods.
Itasca State Park was created more than 10,000 years ago by glaciers. While Lake Itasca is well-known as the Mississippi River’s source (a subject with a lot of discussion that I’ll keep for another time), the park really has over 150 lakes, the majority of which are hidden under the deep forest. Here are just a handful of the finest historical and archaeological attractions and activities at Itasca State Park, one of Minnesota’s best state parks.
Itasca State Park’s Jacob V. Brower Visitor Center
Visitor Center at Itasca State Park the Jacob V. Brower Visitor Center in Itasca State Park is a must-see, with a plethora of interesting displays.
Make a point of visiting the Jacob V. Brower Visitor Center first. You can find all of your Itasca State Park information and maps here, as well as browse the educational and historical displays. A gift store, vending machines, and bathrooms are also available.
The Pioneer Cemetery
The Pioneer Cemetery, which was founded in 1898, is one of the historical sites in Itasca State Park. The Pioneer Cemetery at Itasca State Park has very little information — in many cases, just the date of death listed on the gravestones is known. The cemetery’s creator, William McMullen, who owned a small ranch and resort near Itasca, is an exception. As destiny would have it, he was the second of just 14 persons to be buried at Pioneer Cemetery, which opened in 1898.
The Pioneer Cemetery has the graves of 14 early inhabitants. McMullen and his companion Nelson Rust were unlawfully deer hunting in Itasca State Park, according to the Pioneer Cemetery interpretive plaque. Rust mistaken McMullen’s white scarf for a white-tailed deer, according to records, and fired and killed his companion. Rust was prosecuted for murder and acquitted despite his claim that it was an accident – but McMullen’s friends were not sure it was an accident.
View of Lake Itasca from Peace Pipe Vista
Peace Pipe Vista is located between Pioneer Cemetery and Preachers Grove in Itasca State Park. Peace Pipe Vista has little historical value, but it does include a lovely route through the woods and an observation platform overlooking Lake Itasca. Peace Pipe Vista is situated between Pioneer Cemetery and Preachers Grove in Itasca State Park.
Grove of Preachers
Preachers Grove at Itasca State Park has stunning towering pine trees, some of which are over 280 years old. Itasca State Park’s Preachers Grove is a lovely grove of 280-year-old pine trees that grew following a big forest fire in the 1710s. It was fascinating to read that red trees rely on flames for reproduction. Since the advent of forest fire prevention, it has been required to ignite fires in red pine forests on purpose (known as controlled burnings) to clear shrubs and open the tree canopy so that sunlight may reach the ground. Otherwise, red pines would be competing for space with spruce, fir, maple, and basswood for survival.
Bison Kill Site in Itasca State Park
This section of Itasca State Park dates from the Early Eastern Archaic era, which lasted 8,000 years. The Itasca Bison Kill Site is named after the extinct bison fossils discovered in the vicinity.
It was a bit upsetting to find that 800-year-old Native American burial mounds at Itasca State Park were largely excavated in the late 1800s. After a century, the Native American (or Woodland people) skeletons were reinterred in ten burial mounds. These Native American cemetery sites are now legally protected, and local governments oversee their upkeep. The 100-foot Aiton Heights Fire Tower at Itasca State Park provides a great cardio exercise as well as stunning views.
Aiton Heights Fire Tower
One of the highlights of my trip was climbing the Aiton Heights Fire Tower in Itasca State Park.
Climb the historic 100-foot Aiton Heights Fire Tower for a bird’s-eye perspective of Itasca State Park from above the trees. On the climb up, there are many interpretive signs that describe the various strata or levels.
This fire tower was unlike the one I climbed in St. Croix State Park the first time. The Aiton Heights Fire Tower can only hold six people at a time, is unsteady, and narrows dramatically at the top. The vistas, though, are well worth the wait and the effort.
It’s also worth it to hike through swarms of insects. When I walked at Lake Itasca State Park, I wish I had known about Aunt Fannie’s DEET-free insect repellant wipes. This year, I began utilizing Aunt Fannie’s goods and have fallen in love with them. This summer, I haven’t had a single mosquito bite where I’ve used these wipes. Please be aware that if you click on the link and buy any of Aunt Fannie’s goods (including some other wonderful chemical-free pest control and cleaning items), I may be compensated as part of their Refer-A-Friend programmed. Only items and services that I use or would consider utilizing are recommended.
Sunset with a view of trees
At Itasca State Park, the top of the Aiton Heights Fire Tower offers breathtaking views. The Aiton Heights Fire Tower was one of Itasca’s six observation towers. They were first used to assist survey crews in calculating distances and heights. They were later used to detect fires. The Aiton Heights Fire Tower is one of only six deactivated fire towers still standing in Minnesota (five of which are available for climbing when not closed due to the epidemic). Another view from the top of Aiton Fire Tower at Itasca State Park’s Itasca State Park.
Itasca State Park’s Mary Gibbs Mississippi Headwaters Center
The Mary Gibbs Mississippi Headwaters Center is a must-see for anybody interested in learning more about the namesake’s involvement in preserving the pine trees of Itasca State Park. Before following the short route to the Mississippi Headwaters – the #1 thing to do at Itasca State Park – you’ll want to spend some time at the Mary Gibbs Mississippi Headwaters Center.
Mary Gibbs was a natural force striving to safeguard the environment. In 1903, Gibbs, the first female park commissioner in North America, stood up to loggers (who even threatened her with a rifle) to safeguard the park’s pine trees, insisting that they reduce the level of the dammed water. They knelt and complied.
The Mary Gibbs Mississippi Headwaters Center — a self-guided history tour from 8,000 years ago to the 17th century – has various environmental and historical displays beneath the portico. The gift store in Itasca State Park is now closed due to the pandemic, but the interpretive center is open. Only walk-up window service is available at the Headwaters Cafe.
Cross the Mississippi River’s Headwaters by foot.
Itasca State Park is where the Mississippi River begins. You can literally wade over the headwaters since they are so shallow. A word of warning before I get into the truly spectacular stuff about the Mississippi River Headwaters, where you can really walk or wade over where the great river starts.
Pay attention to the first visitor advice on the backside of the Itasca State Park map, which you may download or get from the visitor center: The headwaters rocks are slippery; exercise care. Yes, I may or may not have paid attention, and I may or may not have ended up in the Mississippi River. I didn’t want to get wet, but I got saturated anyhow (and fortunately no serious injuries other than a couple of bruises).
Headwaters of the Mississippi River Itasca State Park is located in the headwaters of the Mississippi River. Many people are shocked to find that the Mississippi River’s beginnings are at Itasca State Park in Minnesota. While the exact beginning place was a source of contention in the past, the 2,552-mile-long Mississippi River starts its trip from Lake Itasca. You can wade over it since it’s just around 20 feet wide and knee-deep. Pay no attention to the children who are readily scrambling from rock to rock. Wade your way over.
Hiking Trails at the Itasca State Park
Itasca State Park, Minnesota’s second biggest state park, with more than 30 hiking routes. Itasca State Park has more than 30 hiking paths where you can get away from it all. For the most part, the trail difficulty ratings are simple to moderate (at least the ones we explored). Trail lengths at Itasca State Park vary from 80 feet to 9.4 miles. View and download the map from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources website to help you plan your hikes in Itasca State Park.
On Wilderness Drive, take the scenic path.
There are 45 miles of hiking trails at Itasca State Park, but you can also cycle on a 16-mile paved and off-road paved track or take a beautiful drive along the 10-mile Wilderness Drive to access many of the historical and natural sights. There are more than 20 interpretive signs around Itasca State Park that give information on the great things to do.
Itasca State Park is Minnesota’s oldest state park, with 32,000 acres around the Mississippi River’s 2,552-mile headwaters. Visitors to the park boast about walking over the Mississippi River. Small cities, year-round locations for outdoor lovers, and attractions for travelers who prefer their adventure inside may all be found in the surrounding region.
On Lake Itasca, Itasca State Park (dnr.state.mn.us) features a public fishing pier, playground, and swimming beach, as well as boat and bike rentals. In the winter, the Jacob V. Brower Visitor Center, which includes educational displays and a gift shop, serves as a warming shelter for cross-country skiers, snowmobilers, and snowshoe enthusiasts. Hiking and bicycling routes include self-guided tours of the park’s historic buildings, and a boardwalk connects one of the park’s lodges to the Old Timer’s cottage. Throughout the year, rangers offer informative programmers. The park also contains cottages, RV spaces, and backpacking campsites in addition to the lodge.
Before you visit the park, it is better if you can plan everything accordingly. Then you will be able to go ahead with exploring the park without encountering any challenges. This will also help you to end up with securing the most returns that are coming on your way in the long run as well.